Today, it can take several months for a communications service provider (CSP) to develop a new product for an enterprise customer, or even tweak an existing one, because every IT system supporting it must be updated, tested and retested with the underlying network capabilities before the operator can deliver it. TM Forum’s Open Digital Architecture (ODA) is proposing a radically new approach to this process that relies on using standard APIs to expose network capabilities, which dramatically reduces the time it takes to develop, deliver and assure products end-to-end, even when partners are involved.
An ongoing, award-winning TM Forum Catalyst project called Automating network as a service, which was demonstrated at Digital Transformation World, shows how products such as Ethernet, SD-WAN and a virtual firewall running in an open source environment can be ordered through a portal and then automatically activated across hybrid networks made up of virtualized and physical components. The team’s work is key to demonstrating the layers of ODA, from customer management to network resource management, and how TM Forum Open APIs can be adapted and used at each layer.
Decoupling the layers
Operators are trying to decouple IT systems from the underlying resources. In some cases, they envision having network domains ‘expose’ services so that IT systems don’t have to configure the network at the resource level (for example, virtual network functions or physical network functions). This is a huge change, but they view it as necessary because it will increase agility, reduce operating costs and improve time to market with new services.
Champions of the Catalyst project include AT&T, MEF, Orange, Telstra and Vodafone. Participants include:
- Ciena Blue Planet, providing its Network Service Orchestrator for carrier Ethernet
- DGIT, providing its Telflow system to create a self-service ordering portal
- Infosys, providing a virtual firewall running in an ONAP (Open Network Automation Platform) environment
- Riverbed Technologies, providing SD-WAN capabilities
“ODA is a complete rethink of OSS/BSS,” says Greg Tilton, Founder and CEO, DGIT Systems, a participant in the Catalyst. “The game has fundamentally changed because service providers need to touch customers through lots of different digital channels – omnichannel. They also need to dynamically take new offers to market that include not only capabilities they have, but also capabilities from partners – and do that really rapidly. At the same time underneath the OSS/BSS, networks have been getting much smarter and standardizing the way they expose what we now call network as a service (NaaS). Because you’ve got a smarter network and omnichannel on top, the requirements for OSS/BSS fundamentally change.”
Operators say these changes will increase the amount of time they can spend on innovation and differentiation, while reducing time spent on integration and customization. Some CSPs have reported that up to 80% of their budget today goes toward integration costs, which doesn’t leave much for funding innovation.
In the first phase of the Catalyst, which was demonstrated in Nice last year and won an award for Outstanding Open Architecture and API Design, MEF extended the Forum’s Open APIs to enable ordering of Ethernet services according to MEF’s definitions. During the demonstration, DGIT’s Telflow system was used to create a self-service ordering portal for customers. Orders were then fulfilled automatically using MEF’s LSO (Lifecycle Service Orchestration) Reference Architecture (MEF 55), which defines the LSO Sonata reference point supporting management and operational interactions between a CSP and its partners for processes such as ordering, provisioning, service assurance and billing of Ethernet services.
At TM Forum Live! Asia 2017, the team added Ciena Blue Planet to go beyond just ordering Ethernet services to automatically activating them as well using the Forum Open APIs natively and through a mediation. This catalyst won the Outstanding Business Impact Award. At Digital Transformation World the team added ordering and network activation of a virtual firewall running in an Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) environment provided by Infosys and SD-WAN provided by Riverbed. The graphic below shows how the participants interacted:
“We’re showing the complete end-to-end journey through the ODA,” Tilton explains. “There is now a real operator environment along with different vendors and an open-source group providing network domains. From DGIT’s perspective the different domains don’t make much difference because the APIs that talk to each of the domains are fundamentally the same – the whole point is to standardize the way you talk to a network domain.”
Collaboration is necessary
The Catalyst is a good example of the kind of cooperation necessary among standards-development organizations like MEF and TM Forum and open source groups like ONAP to automate NaaS, says Daniel Bar-Lev, Director, Office of the CTO, MEF. “We’re participating because it is addressing an area which is important to both the TM Forum and the MEF,” he says.
MEF has its own reference architecture for orchestrating Layer 1 to Layer 7 services across multiple operator and technology domains called the LSO Reference Architecture, which includes LSO Sonata and LSO Legato as conceptual boundary points. LSO Sonata is where things like checking the availability of a service at a particular location, ordering, quoting and billing happen between service providers and their wholesale partners. Bar-Lev describes this as an “east-west” interface, while LSO Legato is a “north-south” interface, meaning it sits within an operator’s environment.
“There are operational threads connecting LSO Sonata and LSO Legato and that’s at the heart of what DGIT are doing in this Catalyst,” Bar-Lev explains. “They are not only creating an ordering engine, but they’re doing it so that it interfaces east-west over LSO Sonata and north–south over LSO Legato. By doing this, they’re bringing the two worlds together and making ONAP usable in an intercarrier environment.”
This approach to automating NaaS through APIs is a radical change, one that will require support from OSS/BSS suppliers, who will need to adapt and focus their products on leveraging the information exposed by network domains. Automation will be required for services that run across domains within a service provider’s environment and for those that run across partners’ networks.
This Catalyst and others will continue to look at how to achieve automation in a way that is much simpler and more cost-effective. In the future, CSPs likely will need to expose their service catalog to partners, which will increase the need for collaboration among standards development organizations and open source groups.
TM Forum continues to work closely with MEF and ONAP and announced today that three of the APIs used in this Catalyst and others (Service Ordering API, Service Catalog API and Service Inventory API) have been incorporated into ONAP’s Beijing Release. TM Forum Open APIs carrying MEF-defined payloads provide the northbound interfaces in the ONAP Beijing Release, allowing for orders to be placed and fulfilled, and quality of service to be monitored. Development of the APIs, and changes necessary to accommodate various use cases, was done in parallel by The Linux Foundation, MEF and the Forum, with all groups openly cooperating via their mutual members.
Watch Telstra’s Guy Lupo discuss the Catalyst in this video filmed at Digital Transformation World: